how to deal with a bad interviewer

A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a position that I think I’m under-qualified for. The position is to be a dean of department at a university which requires 7+ years experience in a similar post and a great deal of knowledge about financial markets. I graduated from the top ivy league school in the country and have a Ph.D. in educational administration with varied and limited actual work experience in finance.

During my interview for the position, the vice president of the university couldn’t stop talking about the fact that I graduated from this top school. She didn’t ask me any questions about my qualifications at all. She was more interested in “selling” the position to me and asking me about my recent vacation in Turkey. The interview lasted two hours and we spent 1 hour and a half talking about Turkey. At the end of the interview, she said she wanted me to come back next week to meet with the rest of her staff. She also mentioned that I was first person she interviewed for the job and that she has 60 resumes waiting on her desk to be reviewed.

After the interview I went home, did some painstaking research on some issues related to the needs of the university, and sent her a thank-you letter that included my research findings. I felt that I needed to express that I did have knowledge about the job and would be able to contribute in a meaningful way because I did not get the chance to talk about it during the actual interview. I also wanted to take away any doubts she might have about my abilities just in case she actually gave my resume a second look and realized I have no direct experience.

Anyway, the interview was Friday afternoon and it’s now Tuesday afternoon and I have not heard from her. What do you think of her interviewing technique? Do you think that she is still interested ? Is it too soon to follow up? Was presenting the research a good strategy? What’s the likelihood that I stand a good chance getting this job?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 39 comments… read them below }

  1. Intern*

    A long time ago, my dad had an interview in a very nice part of a city. The interviewer’s office had a large window with a beautiful view along a river. Before the interview my dad complimented the interviewer’s office. The interviewer spent the entire time pointing out all the cool places in the city that you could see. They didn’t say one word about the job the whole time and he ended up getting an offer.

    1. Antilles*

      I’m guessing that the offer was basically due an extreme case of the old maxim that people like you more when you talk about them. The interviewer spent so much time talking about things he loved and thought were cool that the positive sensations were transferred to the guy he was talking with – your dad.
      The candidate today, InternDad? Yeah, I really liked him. We had a great conversation, really loved his personality, we really clicked. Not sure about his qualifications, but he just seems like Our Kind of People, so he’ll be a great hire.

  2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    OP, I had an interview like that once.

    The guy had no interest in hiring me, but was sufficiently an egomaniac to tell me for 45 minutes how I should be running my life.

    I told HIS boss that the interview did not go well, we did not talk about the job, all I got was a “life lesson” that I didn’t need. “how many programmers do you need?” Big boss says “seven”. “At this pace, call the customer and abandon any hope of winning that contract.”

    1. kitryan*

      I went to a grad school interview that was with a very well known prof in the field. She had just written an article everyone was talking about about how prospective grad students were basically all doing it wrong. Too much practical experience, not enough drawing/experiences or some such.
      The entire interview was about her trying to ‘prove’ her thesis on me. Oddly, I was actually low/medium on practical experience and high on the recommended experiences but not super high on drawing (never been a carries a sketchbook type). So, even though it wasn’t fitting, she kept trying to shove me in this mold. She also tried to do a ‘gotcha’ on me by asking some pointed questions about a school project that I had done where she’d worked on the original version of it-which I hadn’t known at the time.
      TLDR-interviews are not soapboxes!

  3. fposte*

    Ooh, this one was before my time.

    Dean searches can be an absolute quagmire. I think the fact the OP was interviewed is a sign that they’re having difficulty finding candidates with the stated qualifications, and the ineptitude of the interview may be revealing part of the reason for that difficulty. (Who talks about how many resumes they have in their desk in a *dean search*, for heaven’s sake?) In a decent dean search you’d have extensive opportunities to meet with the faculty, who would almost certainly raise questions about your background that you’d be expected to be able to negotiate; I’m hoping that silence about that part of the process in the post is because it happens at the next stage and not because they don’t do it at all, but I fear it may be the latter.

    So tl; dr: this department and even school might suck. (But also a two day response would be unthinkably fast in this situation, so that’s not why they might suck.)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I think you might be on track that the school was having trouble finding qualified candidates.

      I got an MBA from a small Catholic college in flyover country. The B-school dean had a PhD from a UoP type place. They would have fallen all over themselves for a chance to hire an Ivy Ph.D into that position. My undergrad alma mater has a hard time hiring profs for a decently ranked engineering program at an R1 university due to the location. (And our current governor.)

    2. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, I completely agree with fposte’s tl;dr. I’m going to guess that this is either a very small university or a not very prestigious one, or both. Nowhere else would a dean candidate come in to be interviewed only by the Vice President of the entire university, unless there was very little hierarchy or very few layers of process/faculty governance in place. At most universities you’d have at least two, maybe three interviews for a position of this stature, and it wouldn’t be until the the second or third that you’d meet with someone so high up in the organization. You’d first meet with a search committee, and perhaps even be initially screened by an external search firm. Yes, the VP conversation might be more on personal topics because at that point they’d assume your bona fides had been well assessed – they’d mostly want to know whether you’re someone they’d want reporting to them, personality-wise. But for that to be your FIRST interview says to me that a) they are not big enough or concerned enough about reputation to have a search committee for jobs at this level and b) the VP either does not know how to assess candidates for high-level jobs or it isn’t really that high-level of a job compared to something with a similar title at another institution.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, it’s a worrying story for me. It’s not unheard of for strong and prestigious departments to consider candidates and even hire deans from outside their actual field, but this hiring process sounds more like a retail or fast food interview, where there’s ton of churn and the pay is low. That’s not how deanships are supposed to be.

    3. Ama*

      I do wonder if that was supposed to be some kind of first round interview and that “meeting the rest of the staff” would include a more formal set of interviews. I know when we were hiring a new Administrative Director for the grad school I worked at (the highest non faculty position in the school), the candidates interviewed with the Dean first, and then the ones he liked later did a half day of interviews with all the department heads and the staff that would be reporting to her. Although I’m pretty sure he did more thorough interviews than the OP experienced.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, this is weird. I kept wondering if it was an actual dean position or an administrative dean (e.g., “Associate Dean of Finance”). For a normal dean search, this follows zero of the normal/best practices—even the first interview is usually conducted with more than one member of a search committee.

      BUT, if this is an administrative dean position, this might not be as egregiously out of step… Although it’s still bizarre and a total waste of the VP’s time; I don’t know any high-level administrator who has this much time to kill. (But in administrative dean searches, I’ve more frequently seen the manager for that position have the power/authority to hire on the spot without going through the normal steps because the admin deans are not members of the tenured faculty.)

      I also think it’s highly possible this was a courtesy interview, despite the length.

  4. Academic Addie*

    I assume this was not the sole person with whom you interviewed? Oftentimes, for academic dean positions, interviews with presidents and vice presidents are more to sell you on the position than vice versa. Likewise, when interviewing for professor jobs, interviews with deans, provosts, etc, are to sell you on the professorship, explain what resources the school has, and make sure there aren’t any glaring red flags. Academia is weird in that the people at your level (other deans, other professors) often have more say that those above them, with higher ups mostly approving the hire before the letter is sent.

    If this was the only interviewer, I’d be a little more worried, and more inclined to believe #2 on Alison’s list.

    Academic hiring is also really slow. I for sure had deadlines of “next week” drag into the next month. So I wouldn’t read into the timing too much itself. But it sounds like you have some doubts about your fit for the position. Maybe use the time to reflect on if you really want this specific position.

  5. Bookworm*

    I’ve had an interview like this, although in that particular case it was after I was rejected for one position and they asked me to interview for another. It was strange because it had nothing to do with the other position and I realized during the interview that I had no experience with what the job required (when I was contacted for this second interview they were a bit vague as to the duties but were enthusiastic about seeing me again).

    I was rejected for the second job too and I have no idea why they chose to interview me (I chose to interview anyway since I had interest in the organization). The only explanation I can think of is that they needed a pool of candidates and I would have ticked a couple of diversity boxes for them.

  6. Marcy Marketer*

    Ugh I once had an interview like that. It was a second interview and the guy was clear he was on the fence about me because he either wanted a young fresh person or a more experienced one and couldn’t decide.

    I let myself get into a 45 minute conversation about transportation that I’m SURE cost me the job. Where I would live if I accepted, commute times, transfers, the whole shebang. I kept insisting I would be fine wherever I lived but he kept offering suggestions and opinions on commute times. He introduced me to a senior (internal) client I’d be working with and even brought it up with the client for his opinion! It was clear the interviewer did not agree with my preferred living location. As a more experienced interviewee I would have moved the interview along, but at the time it felt like a train wreck (ha-ha).

  7. Christian Troy*

    I find this to be a really interesting topic because I’ve run into so many situations where an interviewer has no questions for me. It’s really frustrating because I can’t tell if they think I’m qualified and don’t need to ask anything or if they aren’t interested and I’m just filling a quota. I feel like one of the great things about AAM is that I have become more knowledgable in being prepared with questions and digging for data, even when the interview seems strange.

      1. Christian Troy*

        I guess I kind of do end interviewing them. I can’t remember the posts, but I ask a lot more questions because of AAM and go beyond the general, “What is a typical day like?” stuff now. I try not to take it personally or read too much into anymore if someone isn’t really asking questions because I don’t feel like it’s my problem, if that makes sense. I used to get really frustrated by those kinds of situations so it’s been a combination of being better prepared for those situations and also applying for different kinds of jobs.

  8. Student*

    I think AAM may have missed on assuming this wasn’t a courtesy interview because 2 hours is “long”.

    2 hours is very long by “normal” job interview standards. However, 2 hours is a perfunctory, minimal courtesy interview in academia, especially for a dean. This was a soft rejection, like asking somebody to leave after 10 minutes in a normal job interview.

    The norm for average professors is a day-long interview with a dozen different sessions. I know that sounds inefficient, and it is, but normally they’d be doing this for a whole day, often ~10 hours long when you factor in a breakfast and dinner interview, usually more than one day for an important position. Two hours is to make you feel like you’ve been paid attention to and heard out before they toss you, so you don’t complain overmuch to the hiring committee later and your easy to rebuff.

    For such an interview, I’d ask myself if it wasn’t to meet some arbitrary quota by the university, either on raw numbers or on some minority status. Some departments are really big on gaming those stats and will go out of their way to do so.

    1. Not the Person I Think I Am*

      I’m not even on the same planet as academia, but I had this same thought.

    2. oldbiddy*

      yeah, the 1.5 or two day interviews are common, and the meetings with the deans/provost/etc are for you to ask questions about the university. the meetings with faculty in the department are the important ones.

    3. Nye*

      I wondered this, too. But usually you get a schedule in advance for academic interviews, so any candidate brought in for a visit would have the full day+ of interviews even if they’re obviously a bad fit upon arrival. That OP apparently didn’t have this suggests three possibilities: 1) the school is bad at interviewing, 2) it is a courtesy interview for the sake of numbers (maybe they have an internal candidate but are obligated to conduct X number of interviews), or 3) if OP is local, maybe this is a preliminary interview in lieu of a phone screen (a possibility given that the interviewer did mention a second interview with more people). Unfortunately, at this point it sounds like there’s really no way to know.

      OP, if I were you, I’d think about Allison’s excellent comments re: do you want this job?, so if there is a call back you know if *you* want to continue the process. Either way you decide, best of luck!

  9. a Gen X manager*

    As an aside, this is a great example of why you should attend the best school that you can afford; it really does matter. I detest that this is reality, but it is right up there with “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

    1. a Gen X manager*

      With so many companies you’d be better off with a degree in basket weaving from Harvard than a finance degree from ABC /State University.

  10. Anon here*

    Ugh…. I had an interview like this. It was for a position at an out of state college. The interviewer talked about my travels- that’s all he was interested in! A little bit was mentioned about the job, but basically it was about my travels, family, everything else! I still don’t know why I was down there… I didn’t get the job, but they picked up the tab for everything so it was like a mini vacation!

  11. dear liza dear liza*

    I don’t know how old this letter is, but I’m so confused by this letter. Just in case other people are reading this thinking it’s a representative of academic searches: Heck no. If this is a true academic dean position, then there should be a search committee, and a the interview should be a day plus long. It’s not unusual for the portion with higher administrators to be more of a “shoot the breeze” conversation because a lot of times, the VP or President is more interested in how you’d be as a colleague- would you get along. But there should also be time meeting with the faculty departments and the students. And if it’s a non-academic unit, well, you’d still expect to meet your staff and/or colleagues. I’m also baffled by the line that the OP is overqualified. It sounds more like the OP is making a career shift towards academia? Really, the only way you’re overqualified for a dean’s position is if 1) you’re Provost or higher or 2) dean at a better ranked/resourced university.

      1. dear liza dear liza*

        Oh! Thanks for the correction. Please consider the last two sentences stricken.

  12. non y mous*

    I think some of you (not the OP) are perhaps confusing academic deans and administrative deans in your discussion. Administrative dean positions (think, for example, Dean of Student Support) can often be filled by someone with a Masters degree and little academic experience. In those cases, they would be handling oversight of departments and/or initiatives that serve students outside the classroom. But if the OP was being interviewed for an academic deanship, how odd that they received a call at all (leaving aside the bizarre interview).

    OP, research who you might be reporting to carefully before you even send in a letter. You don’t want to work for a boss who received their advanced degree in the mail.

  13. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

    The guy I refer to as The Worst Interviewer I Ever Sat Across From got me started in my current field. We looked at a quarter-section sewer chart and he asked a couple of questions about it, which I couldn’t answer because I’d never seen one. Then he said something like, “So you were in the Navy in Washington? I was on a PT boat out of Oak Harbor in WW2.” The rest of the interview was talking about the Navy. I got hired…

    That was in 1982 and I’ve been in the field since. It can work.

  14. Naruto*

    Even if it turns out that you are qualified, think hard about taking this job if that’s how they hire! In my experience bad hiring practice are often connected to bad management. And if they’re hiring poorly, and especially if they’re also managing poorly, your odds of having great, on-the-ball coworkers go down significantly.

  15. Professor Ronny*

    A dean does report to the University VP (also called a provost) but the VP does not generally select the candidates to interview. The search committee does that. For a typical interview, which would be all day, they candidate would interview with senior faculty in the school for which he would be the dean, the search committee, the VP, and, sometimes, the president. I cannot imagine a university so poorly run that the candidate would only interview with the VP. The faculty would be in an uproar.

    It would also be extremely rare to start interviewing until the pool of candidates had been vetted and reduced to the typical 4-5 they are going to interview.

    Also, the comment about all the resumes on his desk is very strange. No one in academia calls them a resume. They are a vita. A dean’s vita would be 10+ pages. No way anyone could confuse them for a resume.

  16. Kc89*

    I once had an interview kind of like that

    About 45 minutes and the whole time she talked about the job description and her kids a bit and didn’t ask me one relevant question. I tried to slip in some “answers” to questions I never got but I don’t know why I bothered

    Glad it didn’t work out in the end

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I had one like that once. I think it means, though that they’d already decided they weren’t interested in you for whatever reason, and now they’re just killing the interview time. But I admit it was a “huh?” moment to go to this interview, be talked at about the job description and asked no questions for 45 minutes, then not get an offer.

  17. MB*

    I had an interview a few years ago where the interviewer asked why I was still single. She also said at the time that I was too ambitious when I mentioned I was thinking of pursuing another degree.

  18. Polymer Phil*

    I had an interview once where the guy spent 45 minutes telling me all about the company. I kept wondering when he was going to start asking me questions. I didn’t get the job, but felt like I didn’t get a fair shake either. After reading some of the other comments, it sounds like one of those situations where they’ve already chosen an internal candidate, but need to check the box of interviewing more people.

  19. Molly*

    I recently had a stellar interview for an internal promotion to a job I think I am qualified for. My closing question was, “Based on my qualifications, and what you know about my work, do you have any concerns about how I would do in this position?” My thought was, this gives me a chance to respond to any hesitation they may have. (My relative newness to the teapot field, my academic credentials from both Teapot U and U of Teapot, my rapport with the team, etc) They told me they had no concerns and one of the interviewers seemed over the moon about the idea of working with me.

    Since it is internal, since then I have had several rockstar successes and the over the moon hiring manager was even more encouraging. Today I found out they are doing final interviews with their top level candidates through a coworker who doesn’t know I applied for the position. Guess what, I am not included in the pool anymore.

    Hiring managers, please be honest and don’t waste the time and mental energy of folks you aren’t considering. Or at least answer questions honestly. The whole process has made me feel dubious about a Teapot company I thought I would spend the next 10 years at.

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